Thursday, October 1, 2009

5 comments TMQ: Schedule Parity Edition

I'm getting to TMQ a day later than I usually do because I completely did not read it until Wednesday morning. As much fun as it would be to just blindly make fun of an article written without reading it, I usually tend to read articles before I post something. Since Fred has been making fun of my long intros, this is all you get for an intro...sort of.

TMQ is chock full of the stuff that irritates me when written by Gregg Easterbrook. Jeff over at Good Guy at Sports got to Easterbrook before I did this week and you should go check out the site. His covering TMQ is not going to stop me from posting something about Easterbrook as well because he has the decency to look out for the well-being of his readers not to make his posts be of epic length, but everyone should go check out his site if you get a chance. He took a little break from posting but he is up and at it again it appears.

Enough intro, on to TMQ.

Last year's Super Bowl teams are a combined 2-4, and if you haven't heard it already, you will: "That's parity scheduling -- shows what happens when Arizona has to play a championship schedule." NFL parity scheduling is a myth -- maybe that's why so many people believe in it!

Yes, we all know the NFL schedule is decided VERY far in advance, so the NFL has not specifically punished the Cardinals and Steelers for making the Super Bowl last year. That is true, there is a myth that the NFL punishes teams by making them play tougher schedules.


And scheduling has had absolutely zero impact on the Steelers and Cardinals so far.

This is not a true statement. The schedule has had an impact on the Steelers and the Cardinals this year. Not a massive impact, that is true, but the schedule has had a small impact so far. The problems Pittsburgh and Arizona had that did not show up that much in the postseason last year seem to have reared their ugly head this year. The Cardinals' defense isn't that great and they can't run the ball and the Steelers can't protect Roethlisberger and can't run the ball effectively. The schedule has had an impact though, regardless of when it was decided.

The Steelers have played the team with the best record in the AFC last year and the 2009 Bengals and Bears who both have upgraded from last year at the quarterback position, while the Cardinals have played the Colts...and they really weren't that good of a team last year. No that is not sour grapes on my part, they went 9-7 in the NFC West, that is not the definition of a good team who got to the Super Bowl, but the definition of a team that got hot at the right time.

The schedule has a little bit to do with their early failure this year.

Parity scheduling as a major factor in the NFL is a myth because 14 of the 16 opponents teams face are determined years in advance; the two of 16 opponents that are based on the prior season's standings are too few to have much impact on the current season's outcome.

Well this is actually false as well. Let's say the Saints and the Falcons are battling it out for the NFC South title and the Saints win the division with an 11-5 record, while the Falcons had a 10-6 record. The Saints two "wild card" games were against the Bills and the Chiefs, both of which they won, while the Falcons "wild card" games were against the Colts and the Bears, both of which they lost, I would have to say the two games based on last year's standings did make a difference. How often does this happen? Probably not too often, but it does happen and it does have an impact when it comes to a team's record.

Nobody sat around at 280 Park Avenue in New York (NFL headquarters) saying, "The Cards went to the Super Bowl, so let's make them play the Colts in 2009." This was cast in stone many years ago.

It may not be a conspiracy to make the good teams play tougher schedules but we can't ignore this as a reason some teams could get off to a slow start.

But Arizona's strength-scheduling games are at the Giants and hosting the Panthers, neither of which has taken place yet, so strength scheduling cannot be a factor in Arizona's 1-2 start. Pittsburgh's strength-scheduling games are hosting Tennessee, a game the Steelers already won, and at Miami, which hasn't been played yet, so strength scheduling cannot be a factor in the Steelers' 1-2 start.

Both of these are great points...undermined slightly by the fact it doesn't matter how good the teams were last year, it's how good they are this year and both teams have played teams that improved from 2008 to 2009. So there is unintentional scheduling parity that takes place.

Even those two strength-scheduling games are decided by a locked-in formula, not league manipulation. The 2005 manual says that in 2009, Pittsburgh, for its two strength-scheduling games, will face the teams from the AFC South and AFC East with the same division finish as Pittsburgh in the AFC North.

No matter how locked-in this formula seems to be, the end result is that Pittsburgh will play a team that won their division last year, which is most likely going to be a good team. This is not an excuse for either Arizona or Pittsburgh to stink this year of course but scheduling parity happens, no matter what the NFL tries to do to not let it happen.

Trailing New Orleans (which came into the game as the league's highest-scoring team) 17-7 with 7:30 remaining, Buffalo faced fourth-and-inches on its own 29-yard line. That cannot be the punt unit coming on the field! TMQ wrote the words "game over" in his notebook, because with that little time left, you've got to retain possession or it's over.

Here is a perfect situation where Easterbrook sees a situation as black and white when there is gray (grey?) all over the situation. Buffalo would love to go for it there and it would greatly help them win the game to keep the drive, but do you really want to take the chance of giving Drew Brees the ball with only 29 yards to score a touchdown? It's a tough call, not an easy one as Easterbrook would have you believe. The Bills defense had held the high powered Saints offense to 17 points at this moment in the game, it may make sense to not give Brees a short field. Of course, you have to score points to win the game, so maybe going for it is the best thing to do. This is a judgment call, not a black and white decision where there is a solid wrong or right at the time...only those who know the result of the game can think this was a bad decision.

Cheerleader of the Week: Thomas of San Jose, Calif., nominates Itza Sanchez of the Raiders. She is another free-agent cheerleader -- she danced for the San Jose SaberCats of the Arena League -- then when it folded, she jumped to the NFL. According to her Raiders bio, Sanchez is studying at San Jose State for a master's in applied anthropology.

I don't ever comment on the Cheerleader of the Week because it is not sports related and I find it to be silly. This is just silly. It's very "According to Jim" to salivate over cheerleaders.

Jersey/B scored first to take a 7-0 lead against Tennessee, then … krumble on the play! Tennessee fumbled the kickoff, and TMQ contends that the kickoff-return fumble -- the krumble -- is the most damaging turnover there is, because a team that just scored gets the ball right back.

Teams don't always kick off after they have scored. Teams could kick off at the beginning of the game or half as well as after they have scored. Also, the most damaging turnover, hands down, is the interception return for a touchdown thrown when a team is in the red zone about to score. I won't even argue this, that is a 14 point swing in the game. Just ask the Arizona Cardinals about how it affected them in last year's Super Bowl.

The Jets' defense is mega-blitzing and playing well; this combination can't last.

Yes, it can. When you have good man coverage corners and blitzers that are able to get to the quarterback effectively, mega-blitzing can work quite well. Just because TMQ is against blitzing and never thinks it works doesn't mean the blitzing the Jets live by is going to fail to work. They are going to get burned, that's just a fact, but the team can mega-blitz and continue to play well if they blitz well.

They've all been close defeats and Collins hasn't been terrible, but he hasn't looked sharp either. Anybody remember Vince Young? Jeff Fisher needs to shake things up before this season really slips away.

Does Easterbrook remember Vince Young? I certainly do. He is not the solution in Tennessee.

Jax leading by 3 with 1:07 remaining in the first half, Houston faced fourth-and-1 on the Jaguars' 16-yard line. Mincing kick for the tie? The Moo Cows showed an empty backfield, with "bunches" left and right; wide receiver Kevin Walter came in motion toward the quarterback and took a pitch left, running left behind a great pull block by tackle Duane Brown. Touchdown on the possession, and Houston led at intermission. The Texans went on to fumble away the game, but this snap was sweet.

But I thought the Football Gods would be pleased by Houston taking a chance and running a great play and allowing themselves a chance to win the game????? Don't they punish those who don't take chances, so why didn't they reward Houston here?

There are 12 seconds remaining in the game, and the Vikings must score a touchdown -- "Keep everything in front of you!" That's what a defensive back would be told in this situation. Yet Lewis was able to get behind the defense into the end zone. That was sour. Half the Niners' defense should have lined up in the end zone!

Second guessing like this annoys me. The Niners were lined up in the end zone, the ball was thrown up in the air to the very back of the end zone where Greg Lewis barely made the catch. This is a catch made maybe one time in ten tries if a team is lucky. Maybe they should have knocked it down, but there was almost no room for Lewis to make the catch even when they didn't knock the ball down. Second guessing like this annoys me because Easterbrook criticizes every single thing that goes wrong for a team, when the result is bad. If the result on a play is bad for a team, he goes on a search for something the team who lost did wrong. It's not always that easy.

As for the Chiefs, megabucks quarterback Matt Cassel averaged a miserable 4.4 yards per pass attempt -- ye gods!

(Bengoodfella and Bill Belichick simultaneously thinking this isn't that shocking because Cassel isn't worth the money he got paid)

Hidden Play of the Week No. 2: Three snaps before the winning Minnesota play, the Vikings faced third-and-10 on their own 46 with 33 seconds remaining. Favre escaped a pass-rusher, then threw backwards across his body -- exactly what quarterbacks are coached never to do -- to Percy Harvin for a first down, setting up the final heroics.

Pretty much any first down could also be considered a hidden play. Just because a play is not on the highlight reels doesn't mean it is a "hidden play," because it is counted in the box score as a first down and the GameCast of the game will show what happened as well...those who watched the game will also know the value of this first down. It's not really "hidden."

Steven Speirs of Linlithgow, Scotland, writes, "On 10 September, the supermarket where I work got rid of all summer barbeque equipment to make way for Christmas products. Running score so far: Customers who have asked me where all the barbeque stuff has gone, 5; Customers who have demanded I show them to the Christmas section, 0."

Maybe they don't ask where the Christmas section is located because they CAN find it and customers ask where the BBQ section is because they CAN'T find it? That seems like a simple deduction which would indicate shoppers aren't necessarily not looking for Christmas products. A customer wouldn't have to ask where the Christmas section is if they can already find it and I don't think simply because this anecdotal evidence indicates no shoppers in the store were looking for the Christmas section this means no one was in fact looking for the Christmas section...they just found it when they looked for it.

With Jake Delhomme throwing so many interceptions, why are the Panthers passing so much? In 2008, Carolina was third in the NFL in rushing yards, and among the few teams that rushed more often than it threw.

There are some times when the simple way of looking at things is actually the correct way of looking at things. To be fair, the Panthers did get behind very quickly against the Eagles and had to throw the ball a lot. Other than that, this is a decent point.

Going for it on fourth-and-short is both sound tactics and sends the message that the coach is challenging his players to win the game. Jauron's decisions regularly send the message that the coach expects to lose and would like to go home now. Result of the differing tactics? Belichick has three Super Bowl rings while Jauron, at Buffalo, is 2-19 against teams that made the playoffs that season.

Oh my God. There is just so much more that goes into why each coach has had different amounts of success in the NFL and going for it on fourth down is maybe 1% of the reason Belichick has 3 Super Bowl rings and Jauren stinks against playoff teams.

Saying the results of going for it on fourth down, which expresses how aggressive you are to your team, is the reason why Belichick has 3 Super Bowl rings and Jauren stinks as a coach is like saying the result of the New York Yankees having a extra large jacuzzi, which means they show their players they care about them more, is that the Yankees have 26 World Championships and the Kansas City Royals have 1 (I originally put 0 World Championships in here until Anonymous pointed out that the Royals, and not the Cardinals won the 1985 World Series...nothing like undermining your own example with incorrect facts).

I am getting tongue tied here. This comment makes no sense to me. There are probably 100 things more reasonable to help explain why Jauren is not a good coach and Belichick is a good coach...and attitude towards going for it on fourth down is not among the top reasons in my world.

Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk No. 1: Reaching fourth-and-inches on the Cincinnati 1-yard line in the first quarter, defending champion Pittsburgh launched a passive kick -- and needless to say, went on to lose. The defending Super Bowl champion is afraid to try to gain a few inches?

I agree with Easterbrook here...but, I will say I accuse him of making things too black and white and not actually knowing anything about the football teams and this is a good example. The Steelers can not run the ball well and they certainly don't do a great job of power running because the offensive line is only average and they don't have a running back who can power into the end zone. So as pathetic as it was the Steelers did not go for it here, knowing the circumstances explains why they didn't go for it. They should be able to get the touchdown here so I agree with him, but the odds of them actually getting it are not high.

Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk No. 2: Trailing the hapless Lions 13-7 in the fourth quarter, facing fourth-and-3 at midfield, Jim "Dan Snyder Hasn't Fired Me Quite Just Yet" Zorn ordered a punt. Needless to say, Washington went on to lose to a team on a 0-19 streak. So what if a fourth-and-goal attempt failed in the first quarter. That was then, this is now! Fortune favors the bold!

That's a great science fiction saying but I am not sure how much relevance it really has in the real world. Fortune favors those who take calculated risks and I guess Zorn was betting the Redskins defense could stop the Lions. He was wrong and probably should have gone for it here.

Manning and Drew Brees are the two best quarterbacks at the moment, and both teams are fascinating to watch -- Indianapolis because it calls plays at the line, and because Manning is the first NFL quarterback since Jim Kelly in the early 1990s to call his own plays;

Let's not overexaggerate here. He is not actually calling his own plays but is given a choice of three play calls and he can audible to any one of them at the line of scrimmage.

New Orleans because it's using a straight-out-of-high-school spread offense.

Combine Gregg's love for cheerleaders, science fiction shows and movies, his rudimentary knowledge of football, and his love for any type of offense/defense that is run showing any semblance of similarity to a high school offense/defense...and I can't help but wonder if Gregg Easterbrook is still a 17 year old boy in high school.

This will be one of TMQ's favorite moments of the season: low-drafted Division III Pierre Garcon of Mount Union College blowing past first-round choice Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for a 53-yard touchdown reception on a simple go route.

I guess TMQ will ignore the fact first overall draft pick Peyton Manning beat undrafted Kurt Warner to win the game and 1st round picks Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark had great games for the Colts. Yeah, he'll ignore that because it won't help to prove his point undrafted players are almost as good as highly drafted players.

Actually TMQ in this column goes out of its way to compliment Wayne and Clark but never mentions they are highly drafted. I guess TMQ is only comfortable mentioning when a player is drafted when it proves a point that is trying to be made...which is mostly that undrafted players are the best players in the NFL.

Worst Crowd Reaction: The Cardinals were stuffed for a loss on a third-and-1, and the home crowd in Glendale booed vociferously. Sure, you just made the Super Bowl, but what have you done for us lately?

Yet earlier, Easterbrook criticized the Steelers for not going for it on fourth-and-one on the goal line. It's ok for a sportswriter to criticize a team for not going for it on fourth-and-one but it's not ok for a team's fans to boo a team that can't convert a third-and-one?

People are saying the Broncos' 3-0 start is deceptive because Denver hasn't played anyone "real."

I am "people."

Wait -- Denver has beaten Cincinnati, and I don't wish to alarm you, but Cincinnati may be for real.

They "may be" for real? Could be? Possibly? Not sure yet? Who really knows?

That doesn't sound like some definitive proof that would make me re-think my position quite yet. When trying to convince someone you are right it helps if you don't hedge by putting "may be" in place of a more definitive word.

Reader James Soukup of St. Paul, Minn., notes Nebraska -- which Saturday played in throwback 1962 uniforms, commemorating a 300-game home packed-house streak beginning that year -- is up to an "exhausted eligibility" rate of 94 percent, meaning Nebraska athletes don't quit or become academically ineligible -- they stick around till graduation. Boston College, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Wake Forest are among big-money programs that have strong graduation rates for football players;

Yeah but Nebraska has played "cupcakes" this year like Louisiana-Lafayette, Florida Atlantic, and Arkansas State...shouldn't the Football Gods be punishing them for this by causing them to not graduate players? Because the Football Gods do care about things like playing "cupcake" teams, since there are actual Football Gods and all.

Last week, Bulgaria's Irina Bokova bested Egypt's Farouk Hosni to become the new head of Unesco, the United Nations cultural agency. The vote was politically charged because Hosni was accused of anti-Israel bias, of which there is already way too much at the United Nations.

There is too much anti-Israel bias at the United Nations? Is Easterbrook afraid of competition or something?

As TMQ argued last week, Obama is making way too many appearances and speeches.

Says the man who writes 10,000 words every week for a football column when only 4,000 of those words are actually dedicated to football. I actually don't know how many words Gregg Easterbrook types each week, but this seems like a good guess.

Next Week: Russian billionaire declines to buy Washington Redskins, says, "I am looking for a hot property, maybe the Cincinnati Bengals."

Ba-da-(the sound of bengoodfella banging his head against the keyboard).


KentAllard said...

Easterbrook is trying (I think) to make the decision to go for it on 4th down a simple math question (1+1+ 2) when it is an incredibly difficult form of differential calculus, with many, many variables. Has your offensive line been so dominant you can rely on them to push the other line back? has your defense been throttling the other team? Where are you on the field? What's the score? and on and on. In many cases, a coach, who is probably short on sleep and distracted by a dozen other things, has seconds to weigh all the variables and make a decision. When someone gives Easterbrook ten seconds to answer a difficult, ambiguous question with the understanding he'll be fired if he gets it wrong, then he'll understand the process better.

Bengoodfella said...

Yes, that's a pretty good metaphor. He sees a situation and thinks that 1 + 1 = 2 in every situation when in fact there are several variables in there that affect the equation. Many of which you just listed.

You can't just take every similar situation on the football and pronounce the team stupid for not going for it on fourth down every time that situation pops up. That's the thing, a coach may have two minutes to make this decision and his decision making can be affected by what has just happened on the field and Easterbrook doesn't get that. He has two days to digest what happened and second guess when a coach doesn't have that luxury.

For example, in the case of not going for it on fourth down on the goal line and kicking a field goal, Mike Tomlin may have just watched his team try to push it in three times and realize his O-line doesn't have the power to get the runner in the end zone so he goes for the field goal. It's a lot more complicated than TMQ acknowledges.

Anonymous said...

I am shocked that you don't remember one of the most controversal ws of all time in 85 when the royals beat the cards.

Bengoodfella said...

Dear lord. Thanks anon. I am going to call myself out in the post for being a moron about that. I really do always believe the Cards won that series for some reason, though that is no excuse for missing that.

Damn you Don Denkinger! Is it fair if I blame him for my mistake?

Anonymous said...

Yet earlier, Easterbrook criticized the Steelers for not going for it on fourth-and-one on the goal line. It's ok for a sportswriter to criticize a team for not going for it on fourth-and-one but it's not ok for a team's fans to boo a team that can't convert a third-and-one?

A table has four legs but can't run like a horse. You logic is somewhat flawed here. There is no direct correlation between the two. In one section, he's talking about what a team should do. In another he's talking about how fans reacted.

Not going for it on the fourth and one is similar to Buggs not taking the left in Albuquerque and the third and one situation is similar to you getting a promotion and raise at work but your wife divorces you because you forgot to take out the trash.

It was comments like that that switched me from thinking that you had a solid counter argument to you were just being contrary.